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Defiance 1.02 "Down in the Ground Where the Dead Men Go" Review: Everyone Has a Past

    This week’s episode of Defiance, “Down in the Ground Where the Dead Men Go,” was written by Kevin Murphy and Anapam Nigam and was directed by Michael Nankin. The emphasis in the episode is on character interactions and we learn more about the population of Defiance. Once again, I was struck by how strong the female characters are on this show and that they are actually given things to do – both rarities on television.
    For a sci-fi show, Defiance’s second episode was pretty light on the special effects. Or perhaps subtle would be a better adjective. Having visited the permanent sets in Toronto, I can tell you that Defiance is not nearly as big as it looks, but even having been there, the CGI portions are so seamless, I can’t tell where the real world leaves off and the CGI begins. I’m really liking that they are foregrounding big splashy effects, and I think it bodes well for where the show is going. No doubt there will be lots of opportunities for chase scenes and big shoot outs as there were in the “Pilot” and as you might expect to tie in with the video game, but I think they are clearly setting out to tell a story about human (and alien) interaction. This is what everyone has said in interviews and it’s nice to see it already starting to play out.
    One of the major conflicts in the episode is over the cleansing ritual being performed on Elah Bandik (Robert Clarke) for cowardice during the battle. The barbaric practice supposedly part of Castithan society and religion. Irisa (Stephanie Leonidas) is particularly disturbed by his treatment. She tells Nolan (Grant Bowler) after she frees Bandik that she “doesn’t like chains” which makes me wonder if there isn’t a lot more to her discomfort. Perhaps she was tortured in the past and perhaps even by Castithans. We actually didn’t see a lot of Irisa in this episode, but I really like the quiet intensity that Leonidas brings to the role. To some extent, her prosthetics have to be an impediment to her being able to use her face for subtle ques, yet her performance doesn’t suffer. I’m enjoying her growing friendship with Tommy (Dewshane Williams). The final scene with Nolan really demonstrates the father/daughter bond that they have. He tells her she did the right thing even though he’d forbidden her to go near Bandik. He also tells her “I told you so” without saying it when she concedes that Amanda (Julie Benz) had helped them. We also get a glimpse into Nolan in this scene. Irisa had been mooning over the postcard from Antarctica – anybody else feel like the word “Antarctica” had simply been stuck over “Hawaii”? She asks Nolan if he’s still planning on going to Antarctica, and Nolan reveals that while he may be a dreamer, he’s also a realist when he says that Antarctica isn’t real, but Defiance is. It’s also an indication that he’s planning on sticking around for awhile.
    The conflict with the Castithans, and Datak Tarr (Tony Curran) in particular, also provides some additional insight into Amanda Rosewater. She obviously knows and cares about the history of Defiance. She tells Nolan why they’ve tried to honor the ways of all the Votans which also explains why there are so few Irathients in Defiance. It’s an age-old problem – do you honor each race or do you assimilate all of them? Assimilation has been the American tradition, and in the end, Amanda takes a hard line. Datak obviously doesn’t like being told what to do and isn’t above calling Amanda by her first name and reminding her that she’s only been in office a mere 3 weeks. She holds her own against him, however, and in the final confrontation, he backs down – at least to her face. In the end, the Castithans deal with their own problems, and Elah Bandik gives himself up to be killed by Datak. Rosewater has her work cut out for her to have any real community form between the different races.
    The episode also contains another visually stunning scene in the Tarr’s bathing room. Jaime Murray as Stahma is both breathtakingly beautiful and chillingly creepy. She masterfully manipulates Datak. Even when she may be losing ground, she never loses her composure. Murray plays the part perfectly. Stahma is very obviously the strategist in their relationship. She tries to appeal to Datak’s empathy as he comes from a lower liro, but he responds that now that he is of the highest he enjoys pissing on those below him. When Alak (Jessie Rath) joins them, Stahma, who is mostly naked, gives Alak what seems to be a somewhat inappropriate hug while Datak looks on approvingly and appreciatively. It makes me wonder just what kind of a relationship the three of them share. We also see Stahma’s diplomacy skills front and center to convince Christie (Nicole Munoz) to go through with the wedding. Stahma’s tale of why she picked Datak over the husband her parents had picked for her is chilling. I also have to wonder if it was her and not Datak that insured her betrothed went out the airlock. Her charm convinces Christie to go ahead with the wedding.
    We get some back story on all the McCawleys in the episode. We learn that Rafe’s (Graham Greene) family made dog food before Ark-fall. Rafe had wanted to be a photographer and even took some terraformed landscapes until that made him depressed as it reminded him of all that they had lost. It’s an artistic side that adds another layer to the character. It also underscores Rafe’s resentment of the Votons. Quentin (Justin Rain) tries to mediate between Rafe and Christie and he also tells Rafe that Luke was not the good son Rafe thought he was. Ben (Douglas Nyback) also tells Rafe that Luke was planning on leaving. Rafe searches his son’s room and finds money hidden in a drawer along with a mysterious device.
    Once again, it is Nicky (Fionnula Flanagan) and her assistant Birch (Steven McCarthy) who are behind Ben’s escape and the plan to blow up the nuclear plant. Nicky clearly thinks she is doing bad things for the greater good. It’s chilling when she says to Amanda that she’ll “miss her” because she has a double meaning in that she will miss Amanda when Amanda is dead not when Nicky moves. Birch’s motivations remain less clear.
    Having Nolan be a newcomer to Defiance is a good device to provide a lot of the back story. We learn, for instance, that St Louis looks so different because of the terraforming which essentially folded over the city, trapping much of old St Louis within the mines. The audience also learns about Rafe’s history with Nolan.
     I'm also really loving the languages that have been created for the show. The Castithan language is very lyrical and is appropriate to their rather ethereal beauty and their preoccupation with indulging their senses - as seen in the bath scenes. This week’s episode set up some interesting storylines going forward.What is Nicky a part of and who else might be involved in the plot to destroy Defiance? What was Luke up to? Did you enjoy this week’s episode? Let me know in the comments below.

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